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Insights of an Eco Artist

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In conversation: Istvan Dukai

Insights of an Eco Artist Team

Meet Istvan Dukai, a former graffiti artist who has transitioned into a thriving career as a graphic designer. With a focus on logo design, abstract graphics, and nonfigurative patterns, Istvan's style is influenced by geometric tradition, constructivism, and op-art. His minimalist approach to colors and forms, combined with occasional rhythmic variations, produces captivating and illusion-like compositions. By stylizing natural elements into geometric shapes and expertly combining them, Istvan's work showcases the power of reduction and evokes a sense of sensuality. As a highly sought-after freelancer, he has gained recognition as a top graphic designer and art director for renowned European brands, utilizing his designs across diverse materials.

8 June 2023

After spending 15 years in the world of graffiti, Istvan Dukai started his solo career as a graphic artist. As a freelancer he works on logo, abstract graphics, and nonfigurative pattern designs.

His very own style has its roots mostly in geometric tradition, the philosophy of constructivism, and op-art. The minimalist way he uses colors and forms, the repetitive rhythm – which he skips occasionally but wittingly – result unusual and illusion-like forms in the plane.

The fundamental principle of his compositions is reduction, which is based on natural elements being stylized to geometric shapes and the diverse ways of combining these elements. Sensuality also plays a key role in his pictures. He has opened towards interdisciplinary fields: his work is often used on different materials hence he became one of the top graphic designer and art director for several European-based brands.

Artist Statement:

To some extent the art of István Dukai bears testament to the life he has lived so far; reflections of certain experiences of his appear in his artworks every now and then, here and there. This series draws a parallel between childhood experiences and current events: The curfew necessitated by the Balkan war is a lasting memory of the artist’s childhood, brought to the surface all the more by the current „quarantine-life” during the COVID pandemic. The circumstances may be vastly different, but the feeling of loss and being lost, of being unsure and feeling unsafe within our strong confines and altered routines are common denominators, nonetheless. The artist is to present a certain calm, a feeling of eternity and transcendent order in these works. As such reflections the artworks speak an abstract, general language.

Some materials and techniques are evocative of the artist’s childhood amidst the Balkan war: the canvas awning of military tents, hand-woven, rough linens of rural village life. Such vignettes of rugged textures and lives are subtly woven into the artworks.

The artist uses strongly abstrahising, geometric forms to convey these feelings and impressions. Such shapes and evoked textures create a visual rhythm and strong tactile sensation. The aim of the artist is to engage several senses in the viewing process.OP-Art, the play with geometric forms, textures and depth, has a strong influence on the artworks. Equally inspirational are the bold shapes and structures of brutalist architecture in post-war Yugoslavia. István Dukai also draws from local folk art, especially textiles. These bold shapes and patterns as well as the uneven, densely woven materials are reappropriated in his work. A muted colour-palette characterises his work. The austere forms, colours and materials creates the language to express a sense of quintessential, transcendent calm that the artist hopes to convey with his works.

The works features strong contrasts and clashes. The artworks are digitally designed, mixed with traditional, manual printing techniques and materials. This duality emphasizes the engagement with the tresholds and meeting points of cyber-space and reality, of digital and human connections. The contrast between dark and light colours, between contained forms and dense, disruptive lines domineer the works. These contrasts do not only coexist, their interplay is essential in formulating the visual language the artist uses to express calm and upset, freedom and confinement, life and death.

Words: Agnes Fazakas, art historian

8(EIGHT) by Istvan Dukai. Image courtesy of Eniko Varai & Levente Kadar.

What inspired you to transition from graffiti to graphic design as a solo artist, and how did this transition impact your creative process?

I realised pretty soon, that the graffiti / street art subculture - in its classical meaning - was not going to satisfy my visual and artistic plans maximally, so I kept trying to turn towards graphic design. It was a long process with overlaps, it didn’t happen overnight. I had to learn how to create in a completely different atmosphere. I believe that working in a calmer environment, in studio conditions affects production: the outcome is completely different from working on an illegal spot, in a rush, and under pressure.

Your work is often described as minimalist and rooted in geometric tradition, what draws you to this style?

My answer is quite simple, almost profane: it is rooted in the love of order, unity, balance, and cleanliness. All these things help to express myself easier.

Futur Hoc by Istvan Dukai. Image courtesy of Istvan Dukai.

How have your childhood experiences during the Balkan War influenced your artwork, and in what ways do you use your art to convey a sense of calm and order?

I observed the war around us with childish naivety. To be honest, I understood some events in detail only a few years ago. I do feel and see the importance to reflect on these experiences of my personal past in many of my works. I remember the canvas of military tents, the hand-woven, rough textiles of the rural villages, or the rusted, worn-out metal surfaces. Rough textures and such vignettes of my life got subtly woven into my work. The strict shapes, the muted colour palette - I insist on using natural colours mostly coming from dyeing and tanning plants - and the uneven, densely woven materials create a language, that expresses the transcendent calm I wish to convey.

You have mentioned the use of contrasting elements in your art, such as dark and light colors, contained forms, and disruptive lines. Can you elaborate on how you use these elements to express different emotions or ideas in your art?

Somehow this seemed to be the most obvious visual and artistic way of communication for me. Certainly, the many years I spent in graphic design had an effect on this language.

I’ve had countless logo design assignments: in these cases, the many attributes and signifiers must be reduced and summarized into a single, usually duotone, black-and-white logo. These tasks taught me how to communicate with abstract geometry. Strong, closed forms give a static effect to my work, while repetitive lines suggest rhythm and dynamics.

Purgat by Istvan Dukai.Image courtesy of Eniko Varai & Levente Kadar.

Your work often incorporates traditional and manual printing techniques alongside digital design. How do you balance these two methods in your creative process, and what effect does this have on the final product?

It is important to keep up with the world, to move with our times - but with certain limitations, I think. I was born into a completely analogue world, so all kinds of electronic and digital devices - hardware or software alike - fascinated me. My creative process is very careful about the proportions when it comes to the analogue-digital balance. Our lives will change radically because of the rapid penetration of AI. I believe that it is our duty to incorporate as much ’human’ as possible into any sort of product. We need to save some of it/us for posterity.

What role do you see your artwork playing in today’s society, and what message do you hope to convey through your work?

I see my work as reflections of the current times – I might not be up to date always, but my works depict actual happenings and impressions. My aim is to show a sense of calm, the feeling of eternity and a transcendent order, while also visualising the inevitable change, the irrevocable reality, and withering.

Fluit by Istvan Dukai.Image courtesy of Eniko Varai & Levente Kadar.

Can you speak to the role of sensuality in your artwork, and how you incorporate it into your minimalist style?

The Woman, the Man, the human body and soul, their relationship and their mutual feelings towards each other, and even kids, as the fruits of these interactions - I consider all these as the most beautiful things in our world. Obviously, I try to bring these back somehow in my geometric form set. In my works – even if they are abstract – there’s a clear distinction between genders. But I also know, that boundaries are fading, and in a few hundred years we might end up living in a gender-neutral world. My works want to show an abstract record of our times: sexes and gender roles are now still more definite than not, but they might not always be.

How do you approach collaborations with brands as a graphic designer and art director, and what challenges and opportunities do these collaborations present for your art?

I wouldn’t do these collaborations if I didn’t like them. It feels great to get out of my comfort zone and think outside the box. Every new collaboration is a new challenge, and when you get to the end of it, you definitely learn from it. Of all the opportunities that come from these, I would highlight the benefits of social capital – if you use it well, it might bring further collaborations, new business, and/or in many cases great friendships.

Core by Istvan Dukai. Image courtesy of Istvan Dukai.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists and designers who are trying to find their own unique style and voice in the industry?

My first advice is not to take guidelines from anyone! The second is to avoid creating out of secular or physical necessity. Don’t get me wrong, aiming for a goal is great until you don’t feel that it is overwhelming and compulsory. Personally, I spent a long time searching for mine: I kept on doing styles and roles which were not so close to me, and I even got stuck with some of them for longer than I should have. You have to recognise these situations early enough and move away from the dead ends (rather than continuing down the wrong path). Of course, it is inevitable to try more styles, but you will feel it when you find the right one. When you create and time stops, when you find joy in every part of the process, when you start to experience freedom and confidence, or when you start getting more and more positive feedback - then you will feel to be on the right track...

Lastly, are there any podcasts, books, or artists you would recommend?

There are way too many and way too great artists in the world. It would be hard to pick just ten or even a hundred. Also, I don’t believe in guided selection, let everyone find what they fancy, and what is important to them. I would say: visit exhibitions, read real books, and dare to change opinions with random people!

Know more about the artist here.

Cover Image:

Rur.Sus by Istvan Dukai. Image courtesy of Eniko Varai & Levente Kadar.

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